Turning shock into action: The Gibbons Family Story

When Jim Gibbons learned his wife Kathy had cancer, the news felt surreal. 

“The initial reaction we felt like we got mugged. Like what? Are you kidding? Her care team jumped right in. We started her on her initial round of chemotherapy within a couple of days,” said Jim. “We were climbing mountains in Portugal in April, and now we’re climbing different ones at Roswell.”

Kathy’s current battle with cancer is what motivated her family to sign up for their first Ride for Roswell. They’re riding not only to honor Kathy, but also to help forge a new, easier path for the next generation of patients.

Jim and Kathy Gibbons

Kathy’s Cancer Diagnosis

Kathy Gibbons in treatment
Kathy Gibbons in treatment

In the early summer of 2023, Kathy became noticeably tired. She developed an abnormal heartbeat, and, alongside her family, sought medical help to get to the bottom of what was going on.

Her daughter Cailin knew something was seriously wrong when a doctor in the emergency room told them they were going to call oncology at Roswell Park.

“She was officially diagnosed on July 4th last year with acute myeloid leukemia. Definitely a scary and uncertain moment, because we were unfamiliar with the disease and had so many questions yet to be answered,” said Cailin.

Kathy was admitted to Roswell Park to begin treatment right away. Jim and Cailin learned to pivot from shock to action, to be there as Kathy’s support system. Bridget, Kathy’s other daughter who lives in California, took the first flight she could get to come home.

Cailin explained, “It’s devastating. I don’t think you ever want to see someone you know, let alone a parent, go through something like this. There have been days where I’m just like, ‘I wish I could take your place.’”

In addition to the chemotherapy, Kathy also leaned on Roswell Park’s Donor Center as a key tool in fighting this disease.

“I added it up just from a couple month period. I looked at her chart and she received around 50 platelet transfusions,” said Jim. “She’s alive because of that donor center.”

Kathy received a 10/10 match through the Be The Match program, which allowed her to receive a bone marrow transplant in October. But, her journey is far from over. She is still recovering and gaining her strength back every day.

Riding for Kathy and Other Cancer Patients

Living in Western New York, Jim and Cailin had been familiar with Ride for Roswell for many years, and with Roswell Park now being a major fixture in their lives, they decided to join the cause.

“It was a no-brainer for me to participate this year,” said Cailin. “For me, I sometimes feel so helpless. What can I do? If raising money for Roswell Park helps me cope with my mom’s diagnosis and feel like I’m giving back and helping support, of course I’m going to do that.”

Members of the Gibbons family registered on the Donor Center’s team. In fact, this year, team captains for the Donor Center even selected Kathy to be their 2024 honoree.

Jim and Cailin have turned fundraising into a friendly father/daughter competition. They both have personal goals of raising $10,000. They say their ability to garner donations quickly speaks to Kathy’s character and the impact she’s had on so many people in her life.

Cailin and Kathy GIbbons

“Taking Deep Breaths” and Coping with Cancer

Kathy Gibbons in treatment
The Gibbons Family

When asked what advice they would give to another family learning of a cancer diagnosis, Cailin and Jim first offered, “Take deep breaths.” They’ve taken each day as it comes, trusted Kathy’s care team and created moments of joy along the way.

Their inspiration for staying positive: Kathy.

Jim said, “She was in a bed at Roswell I’d say about 120 days since July. Her spirit really hasn’t faltered all that much.”

Cailin, Jim and Bridget thank the team at Roswell Park for treating all of Kathy — the cancer patient and the human being. The staff has gotten to know her and allowed the family to feel as involved as possible.

One example of this came in August, when Kathy celebrated her birthday in the hospital. Nurses and medical staff helped decorate and hang a banner outside her room. Family members and friends sent birthday cards. In one day alone, Kathy opened around 80 cards from loved ones.

 “Some of our darkest moments as a family have been at Roswell Park. But then some of our brightest moments have too,” Cailin reflected.

As they prepare for their first Ride for Roswell as a family, Jim, Cailin and Bridget are all in on supporting the mission to end cancer.

“I’d gladly do whatever I can to help support my mom and the community at Roswell Park because she’s not alone. The floors are always full, so I know that people are looking for hope and answers and treatment and second chances, and if that’s what dollars can give, then it’s a great feeling,” said Cailin.

Jim added, “We’re taking it one day at a time. There have been times I’ve been so afraid. But I’m not as afraid anymore.”